Friday, November 27, 2009

Careful, or you'll end up in my novel!

My husband once surprised the members of my Uff Da Cum Laude Critique Group with sweatshirts proclaiming, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel!” I’ve enjoyed wearing mine and donned it the Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, eliciting chuckles from the regulars at coffee – they know I have a novel due out soon. Later in the day, at the very busy grocery store, the reactions to my shirt startled me. I encountered guarded looks, a couple of double-takes, and several shoppers who lowered their shopping lists and wanted to chat.

Alas, I have no superpowers; most specifically I lack the ability to gaze into a stranger’s soul. Yet when I maneuvered down the canned-goods aisle in search of jellied cranberries, I had to surmise that those wary shoppers glancing sideways at my shirt were concerned I might somehow guess their secrets; that they’d once kissed the wrong boy or yearned to try sky-diving but didn't know how to discuss it with their more conservative partner.

Their reactions were complimentary but a bit intimidating. Why? Because I felt even more compelled to write stories that would allow the solemn, coupon-wielding single mom studying cake mixes to escape into the past with Arick, my valiant fighter pilot. He would never betray her. Or perhaps the sarcastic young man bagging my groceries would prefer the future, where he could kick off his stiff shoes and intern on the Metronome, the spaceship in my new work in progress.

That evening I considered hanging my sweatshirt across from my desk to remind me to be careful, too. After all, someday I might travel with one of those shoppers to the dark nights of war, or spin through a wormhole to leap forward in time. Dancing on distant moons isn’t for the faint of heart, nor, it seems, is visiting the grocery store a few days before Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reflections On My Book Trailer Teaser

As writers we envision what our characters look like, what they wear, where they live, yet seeing that unfold within my book trailers was quite literally, magic. On Halloween I viewed both the final version of the teaser and the working draft of the full trailer, which will soon be released. Emotion pinned me to my chair for those few minutes, and (no surprise) I've studied the trailers a number of times since.

To explain the process a bit, I provided my book cover, a synopsis, and a copy of my galley proof to the Art Director, Matt Faichnie. We chatted about the book, discussed what sort of music would capture the mood, and the amount of text I would provide. Now here was a new challenge. Writing an eight-page synopsis for a book is difficult enough. For the trailers I needed to craft phrases that captured the heart of Soliloquy without revealing too much.

As Matt began to story-board I started writing. My first draft was clumsy and several pages long. That would never do. This was supposed to be a visual encounter with Soliloquy, with minimal text. So I turned up the volume on Moonlight Sonata and started over.

Alone she creates (This first sentence was easy). Amazing music (Hard to think of amazing as ordinary, but I did. That sentence sounded ordinary). Extraordinary music (That might work). Searching for love (Strike that. My main character wasn’t actually searching for love; she yearned for it but was afraid to trust). Yearning for love? Aching for love? (That was better).

Alone she creates... Extraordinary music... Aching for love... Never found...

Yes! Over the course of several days I pared the full text down to forty-four words to represent a novel of 81,000 words. A fascinating challenge. I forwarded a working draft to Matt and he forged ahead with green-screen filming and his unbelievable computer magic. I tiptoed away, although I couldn't help but look over my shoulder once or twice.

A few weeks before Halloween we met so I could listen to the music he created and he shared a few unedited scenes. On Halloween, Matt sent me links to the teaser trailer and the working draft of the full version (an additional 45 seconds or so). First I watched the teaser trailer and I couldn’t stop grinning. Then I opened the link to the working draft and I think I traveled through time, right then and there. I was entranced.

After watching it several times and then viewing it again with my husband, I realized how many details Matt captured. The music crescendoed slowly, enhancing the action, embracing the re-enactment of the primary scene from my book cover. Erin and Arick lived and breathed.

Pouring your soul into a manuscript and having an editor tell you she enjoyed your story and wants to publish your book is an intense experience. The first glimpse of your book cover is highly emotional, as is signing off on your galley proof. Viewing my trailers transformed this Halloween into another magical day, courtesy of a talented cast directed by the extraordinary vision of Matt Faichnie of Improbability Productions. Abracadabra!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Soliloquy for Veterans - Part Three - Veterans Day

A few more of Howard Fogg’s diary entries from 1944…

February 10, 1944 – Thursday – Wretham Hall
Terrible snow squalls, 300-foot clouds. Briefing at 0815. Take off 0945. Me, Randy, Hunter, Baldy (Baldy didn’t get off, trouble with belly tank) were Yellow Flight. Whole group scattered into Flights, attempted to form above. We lost everyone. Climbed for 10,000 feet through snow and soup to 15,000 feet. Windshield iced up badly. Went on across, picked up bombers, many fours of P-47s all over, couldn’t identify ‘em, picked up Cunningham of 370th but then lost him again. Went in to Lingen, Germany. Stayed with B-17s full time, turned back singing “We Three Are All Alone.” Hit vicious squalls off and over Yarmouth, made landing field at four hundred feet. Wow. Glad to get back. Hardest flight I ever made.

May 29, 1944 – Monday – Wretham Hall
Another hot summer day. Beautiful. Up at 0700, to Plotting at 0730. Took off at 0945. Me leading Green with Hammy and a pilot I didn’t know. Late so joined Squadron in air with me as Blue Four, and Hammy as Yellow Four. The unknown pilot was Red Four. Then White two aborted, so I flew Murphy’s wing. Nice pilot. Targets Politz, Stettin, Poznan. We met bombers northeast of Hamburg near Stettin. The 368th (low flight) were bounced by 109s. We went down on twelve to fifteen 190s in front of bombers. Hit 515 IAS in formation! Murph got one in a left turn with me covering his right wing. A 190 came in on me. I broke hard up and left. Could have got around on him, but Wetmore came barreling down and got him (pilot bailed out). We joined up at 2,000 feet. No one was in sight so back to 15,000 feet. Flew home via Kiel, Heligoland. Four hours and thirty-five minutes. Whew! The 370th got eight, the 369th got two and the 368th got two. Hag got another. Wetmore and Lane each got two. But the 369th lost Brundage and Morrill.

June 6, 1944 – Tuesday – Wretham Hall – D-Day
Raining and overcast. Briefing at 0030. Worked right thru the night. First take off was at 0240. Full night. Tacon leading “A” Group. Colonel gave us the whole picture and did a fine job. Group assigned areas ringing beach heads for patrols. Chappie gave prayers on truck in moonlight. Gorgeous night. Inspiring. I’ll never forget it. Take off accomplished okay. Waited to rain until 10 minutes after take off. A miracle! They (“A” Group) were out six and one-half hours! “B” Group off at 0540 to relieve ‘em. Each Squadron left one hour apart to bomb and strafe area 770 (Le Mans – Tours). I went with the 370th. Mac led Squadron. I led Red Flight with Hastings, Connelly. Swell formation up thru holes in several cumulus decks. In at 20,000 feet then down to deck. The eight of us first bombed roads and railroad tracks, then we found a train west of Le Mans and shot the Hell out of it. No enemy aircraft, no flak, no signs of anything. Got back together, came home in perfect formation. Swell mission. Lousy cumulus over England with rain and low ceilings. Landed at 1630. No sleep, dirty. I plotted five missions unassisted. I was dead. Tacon’s “A” Group went out again at 1800 to patrol area 770. Tacon’s Group came back in full dark at 2330. Several landed elsewhere. I ate, took a hot bath, in bed at 1900 and was asleep by 1900:10!!

November 11, 2009 - In summary, as we remember our Veterans…
Captain Howard Fogg flew 76 missions and completed his combat tour in September 1944 and was discharged from the Army in August 1945. Along with the ribbons he earned while with the 359th Fighter Group, Howard was awarded the Air Medal with three clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross with one cluster. There were 13,455 sorties flown by the pilots of the 359th. In addition to guarding the “heavies” they shot down 241 enemy aircraft, with an additional 33 probables and 69 damaged. Another 122 were destroyed on the ground plus 107 damaged. Almost 500 locomotives and 1,400 railway cars were destroyed or damaged. Other ground attacks supported troop movements and targeted infrastructure.

Howard’s Fighter Group lost 121 pilots.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Soliloquy for Veterans - Part Two - Pilots Going on a Mission (1944)

As mentioned in Part One, my fascination for World War II began when I first read the war time diary my late father-in-law, Howard Fogg, kept during 1943/44. Perhaps only a fellow pilot could truly comprehend the emotions of those young fighter pilots, with their daily lives alternating between, as Howard said, “terror and sheer boredom.” But after reading and transcribing his diary and researching his missions and the War, my husband and I discovered an article written by Howard that captures those emotions.

Here are excerpts from the 1944 article “Pilots Going on a Mission” by Howard Fogg…

“We wake up – resentfully. Still, this isn’t so bad. Yesterday it was 0415. Our first fully conscious act is to check the weather out our windows. Never knew a pilot yet who didn’t do this immediately when he crawled out of the sack. We dress after a quick splash in the wash bowl. Most of us shave before going to bed. Saves precious minutes in the morning.

The usual thoughts run through our minds at breakfast and on the truck to the briefing room. What position am I flying? Is my ship O.K.? Where are we going today? It’s old stuff to many of us. Some have been across 70-odd times. Most of us talk a lot at breakfast and on the truck.

“Gonna get one today…
“Hope it’s a short haul…
“Hope it’s long, I need time…
“Better fly in closer today, Joe…
“Oh, my God, is he leading the Squadron…
“Damn, I forgot my dog tags (this is serious when rushed)…
“Boy, my butt is still sore from yesterday…

Much of the chatter is superficial, forced. We’re trying to wake up, get a clear head. Talking helps.

Then we’re at briefing. We all watch “Stormy” and his weather board. If there's an overcast our first thought is always, how thick is it? Our eyes wander the map, noting the courses, the size of the show, subconsciously figuring on the chances of a fight along our route, how much water we’ll have to cross, and the damn flak!

We're impatient. Top cover 32,000 feet and wing tanks to boot. It’s gonna be rugged. But first we have to catch Chappie’s prayer. A solemn, very sincere moment when most of us realize as much as at any time that this is a serious business we’re engaged in. That moment with Chappie is good.

Unloading from the truck at the pilot’s shack our first thought is of flying equipment. Coveralls, helmet, Mae West, parachute. Next stop is S-2 – a careful checking of all pockets. Some of us leave our rings, bracelets, wallets, letters. Nothing written must go with us. S-2 hands us course cards and maps.

Somebody reminds us that our formation has been lousy and we should ‘stick ‘em in tight.’ We promise this to ourselves. We have an unfortunate attitude of considering ourselves to be above instruction – w’ot the Hell – we’re combat pilots, not OTU students. Among many faults this shows up in nearly every one who’s crossed the Channel. We check the time again. Hell, let’s have another cigarette. They taste lousy, but it’s relaxing. Some of us chew gum – makes your mouth feel better for those uncomfortable hours ahead with an oxygen mask creasing your face and parching your throat. Many grab wads of cotton from Doc. It helps the noise in the ears which can be as disconcerting as anything that happens in an airplane.

Time to go out. No use rushing. Everyone hates tearing out to his ship at the last minute. Never say goodbye – just leave the shack casually. No fuss. Pilots hate any show of sentiment, even a handshake would be fiercely resented at the moment. After all, we’ve been telling ourselves that this is just another job. There’s nothing to worry about. Check the weather. We hand our helmet to the waiting crew chief, look the ship over, noting the position of the tail-wheel.

Five minutes to go. We climb up on the wing and wriggle into the cockpit. First thing, fasten those dinghies to the backtype chutes. The dinghy is already in the cockpit. Next, fasten the Mae West lanyard. Assisted by the crew chief, we squirm and twist into as comfortable a position as possible. It’s important to get set right now. Then the straps can be tightened if necessary.

There follows a routine which no two pilots probably do alike. It includes: clamping the oxygen hose to our harness – putting on our helmet – plugging in radio; connecting and testing our oxygen masks – trimming the crate for take-off; turning on radio, gun heat, often the pitot heat; setting the gyro compass, setting the altimeter; checking the ship’s clock with our watch.

A minute to go. Brakes on? We check them. Flap handle is placed in “up” position. They’ll come up as soon as the engine starts. The crew chief closes the canopy. We lock it. “Chocks are out. Whenever you’re ready,” shouts the crew chief. We look over the switches and instrument panel again mentally rechecking all previous moves. It’s time! “Clear!”

We flick on battery and ignition switches; the fuel boost pump, main gas line. Suddenly the awakened radio makes noises in our headset. We prime the engine, at the same time flicking the starter button. The prop turns over reluctantly, shaking the crate. She spits, dies, we shoot the primer again. She coughs and comes to life in a whirlwind of noise and vibration. Lock the starter switch off, flip the mixture control down. She’s running smoothly now.

Brakes off and we start to taxi out with quick glances at all engine instruments and a check of the flaps. The brakes feel good, but take it easy. They won’t hold long against too heavy a foot. Watch the coolant temperature. At the marshalling point “mags” are checked, blower checked, fuel selector valve handle turned to all positions. The ammeter is read at high RPM. Another final glimpse at the instrument panel. We roll into take-off position. Flick the fuel boost switch to emergency. Push shut the sliding window of the canopy.

We’re ready. No idle thoughts; everything is focused on take-off, getting her in the air, shipshape, and into good formation. We feel confident and at home in the cockpit – it’s our office and we feel the best we have since waking. Throttles go full forward. There’s the roar, the dust, the rough bouncing and jolting. Suddenly we’re in the air. All else has been in preparation for this.

And as we get under way, there begins that peculiar practice common to most fighter pilots alone in their ship – talking aloud to themselves, muttering, humming, raving like maniacs at some trite detail particularly if the going is difficult. Just let the leaders drop their air speed too much and we start swearing. Let the weather be bad, let us get split up, oxygen masks nearly melt with the heat of invective.

We check our altitude and times and courses. Once to the English Coast we begin searching for other planes, the Big Friends, other fighters, and contrails. Heads clear, nerves relax – and the real job begins."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Soliloquy for Veterans – Part One

I first drafted Soliloquy, my vintage romance, well before I became fascinated by the actual events and logistics of World War II. Then I delved into the diary my late father-in-law kept during 1943/44 while he was stationed in England. A recently married fighter pilot, Howard Fogg flew seventy-six combat missions in P-47s and P-51s, escorting bombers into France and Germany.

What a blessing Howard’s diary became for me. My fascination for World War II flourished, which hopefully made the relationships in Soliloquy far more interesting. The diary also prompted me to collaborate with my husband Richard on a non-fiction project. Fogg in the Cockpit is a manuscript comprised of Howard’s diary entries with supporting information written by us. We’re in conversation with an aviation publisher and hopeful that we’ll have the opportunity to contract with them soon.

This week, to remember those who fought, including my own late father, William Perry, who served on the U.S.S. Jenkins in the South Pacific, I thought I would share a few of Howard’s diary entries.

A twenty-seven year old Lieutenant, Howard received his shipping orders on October 1, 1943. Secrets were held close; he couldn’t call his wife and the base was immediately sealed off. On October 7th Howard set sail for Europe.

October 1, 1943 – Friday – Westover Field, Massachusetts
Oh memorable of all Fridays when, unwittingly, and with promises of seeing her in Summit soon, I gaily kissed Margot farewell for the last time prior to shipping. Of course we’d have time off from Westover Field. Yes? Who dreamt that a week from tonight we’d be on the high seas Europe bound, with the family still waiting in Summit. Such is fate. But perhaps it was easier this way. No parting tears. No grief of certain parting. In any event, all was excitement and confusion as we prepared to board the train for Kilmer. Nineteen cars and B&M (Boston & Maine railroad) #4114 at 2:30a.m. All aboard!

October 7, 1943 – Thursday – New York Harbor
Goodbye New Jersey and, incidentally, the United States of America. We entrained at 1030, boarding the CNJ (Central Railroad of New Jersey) #827 pulling twelve cars. Traveled branch lines to Port Reading, then straight in to Jersey City and the noble ferry Bayonne to 43rd Street. Boarded the U.S.A.T. Argentina. She’s a good veteran of many war trips and a few running fights. Originally designed for 500 cruise passengers, she was enlarged to hold 4,000 troops, yet we find ourselves double-loaded with nearly 7,000 men. Conditions are really crowded. Men on all the decks, in the scuppers, men everywhere, but no one seems very upset except the 2nd Lieutenants. Poor guys.

What struck me was that once Howard received his orders, no communication was allowed. Families didn’t know where their husbands or fathers or brothers might be headed, not even what country. And they wouldn’t know for months. Communication from overseas was laborious and each letter scrutinized and censored. Yet spirits remained high as these men began their journey into combat.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Creating Worlds

Never thought I would rule the world and I certainly never aspired to do that. But guess what? I do! Well, I rule the worlds I create, and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as stirring up trouble for my characters. From dashing their lofty hopes or nurturing impossible dreams, to fulfilling destiny or discovering heroes within the most unlikely characters, it’s all terrific fun. They’re with me all the time. If I’m bored or just enjoying a quiet moment and want to daydream, I can easily slip into the future or the past. With so much of SOLILOQUY set in World War II France, my visits to the past engendered a desire to understand even more, hence my ongoing reading about the War. I’ve just purchased IN COMMAND OF HISTORY by David Reynolds, and while I’ve only read the first few pages, I look forward to learning about Churchill’s thoughts and hopes and darkest moments. I’ve also toyed with the idea of plotting another book set in those years since I’m visiting them so often. Another world to create based on the lives of true heroes. Rewarding beyond belief.